Along with gold, silver is easily one of the most popular metals used to create jewellery. Much like any piece of jewellery, there has to be a way to determine the quality of the materials at hand, and silver is not different.
Much of the jewellery around the world which has been produced in the last 400-500 years will have a very clear number of stamps which we call hallmarks.
The main purpose being silver hallmarks is to distinguish the level of silver purity in the piece of jewellery.
Before this process was brought in, it was near impossible to know the quality of a piece of silver. Each piece of silver is tested and marked. This allows it to be regulated once put on the market. In the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulates the price of Silver in the UK.
This is the only way to protect consumers who could otherwise be tricked into counterfeit silver jewellery.
Hallmarks also help us determine where a piece of jewellery was originally produced. For example, there are different hallmarks from certain cities in the UK.
There are thousands of different silver hallmarks from around the world, making it pretty much impossible to recognise and identify each, especially if you are merely a consumer. In fact, there are so many in the UK alone that you would struggle.
There are certain hallmarks which should feature on every piece of silver:
There are four generally accepted standard marks for silver which signify the purity of the silver. These are; 800, 925 Sterling, 958 Britannia and 999.
These standard marks can simply appear as a stamp featuring the number of its purity. In the UK, certain standards are instead represented by a certain image. So, for 925 Sterling, there are four different hallmarks, one for England, one for Edinburgh, one for Glasgow and one for Dublin.
All of these are very traditional images. The English hallmark is a walking lion, the Edinburgh hallmark is a standing lion, the Glasgow hallmark is a Scottish Thistle and the Dublin hallmark is a crowned harp.
Theres also a specific mark for the Britannia Standard 958. This is, of course, the image of Britannia, the Roman personification of the land of Britain,something which many still get confused with as this Metro article shows.
If your piece of silver does not show any of these marks, it is either not British silver or is silver plated.
Assay Office Mark
Next is the Assay office mark, which essentially signifies the office in which the silver was tested, offering accountability to the given standard mark.
Each office has its own specific mark. For example, Birmingham has a ship anchor and Sheffield has a Yorkshire rose mark.
It is possible for a piece to be given the English standard hallmark but receive the assay mark from somewhere else. To avoid confusion, everywhere (except Dublin) has adopted a different stamp, so this is made clear.
For example, While the Edinburgh standard mark is a standing lion, the Edinburgh assay mark is a castle symbol.
Sometimes referred to as the sponsors mark and is usually a set of initials, this mark provides information on the company or silversmith responsible for getting the item hallmarked. This will often mean that they have crafted the piece of jewellery.
The below hallmarks are optional:
As you might expect, this mark shows which year a piece of silver was hallmarked. These begin at 1900 with the letter A, and move alphabetically towards the present day.
There are certain commemorative marks that are used to date a piece of jewellery to a certain event year. Jewellery is often created on particular years to commemorate definitive years, particularly in the UK.
A time whenever there are commemorative pieces made in the UK is around Monarch milestones. A great example would be Queen Elizabeth II Diamond jubilee in 2012.
Introduced in 1984, the duty mark was used to indicate the tax on the item which had to be paid to the crown of the time.
The stamp would depict the monarch who was on the throne at the time. This also helps us pinpoint the date of something.
For example, when this mark was introduced, the stamp would be of King George III.
This can also help us date a piece of jewellery, down to within a year. Before 1784, silver that was exported from the UK was not subjected to duty.
However, a piece of jewellery which features a drawback hallmark meant that duty could be reclaimed on it. These marks were only used between 1784-1785,which is why it is easy to date a piece featuring one. To learn more on this, take a look at this post from Silver Collection.
While lots of silver was and is produced in the UK, not all of it is, meaning plenty is imported. Back in 1867, an import mark was introduced to distinguish between silver which was imported into Britain.
The stamp is a very clear F for Foreign, and stopped being used after 1998.
Because the majority of hallmarks are optional, it means that some pieces of jewellery vary massively from others in the number they have. This is also influenced by the date in which they were first hallmarked.